By Neil Moore
Metroland Media/Wheelstalk.com –
Part wagon, part crossover – I’m not quite sure how to label the Venza.
It seems the auto industry is already chock-a-block with vehicle segments, and in the Venza, Toyota has blurred the lines even further.
But no matter, it appears they’ve hit a sweet spot with this vehicle, which debuted in 2008 at the North American International Auto Show as an ‘09 model.
The Venza was conceived in North America for North Americans, and it is apparent from the look that designers leaned heavily on sedan styling – with a wide stance and sleeker lines – but at the same time incorporating key sport utility attributes such as cargo space, towing ability and available all-wheel-drive traction and stability.
What struck me first about the Venza is how wide and low it appears, compared with a similarly sized SUV. This is no trick of the eye, as the numbers show it’s virtually the same length and width as the mid-sized Highlander SUV, but half a foot shorter.
Of course, in foregoing a tall, trucky design, the Venza can’t match its sibling on cargo capacity, but at 870 litres behind the 60/40 second row, and 1,990 litres with seats folded flat, it can still haul plenty of gear.
Individual levers in the cargo hold will drop either seat, and the low floor makes for smoother loading.
Indeed, the Venza’s lower stance also makes it easier for aging boomers (and small children) to step in and out of the vehicle, yet the ride height is still tall enough for a commanding view of the road.
My tester was the fully-loaded AWD V6 model (MSRP $32,245) – amped up with the $4,215 Premium package – which includes a pile of amenities and interior upgrades like sporty leather seats (with perforated inserts and white piping), faux carbon fibre appliqués on the doors and centre console, and a panoramic sunroof – in reality two glass panels over the first and second rows – adding to the open, airy feeling of the passenger cabin.
But if you think a top-drawer V6 Venza is noticeably better equipped than a base four-cylinder model, think again.
Even the front-drive entry model, which starts at $28,690, includes most of what you get in top trim: dual-zone automatic climate control; power eight-way driver’s seat; tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio and phone controls; six-speaker AM/FM CD/MP3/WMA audio system with 6.1-inch display, Bluetooth and the usual inputs; 3.5-inch multi-info display; and the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of centre consoles.
This extra-long unit has a sliding cover that opens to a large, illuminated storage well that’s equipped with audio inputs and a 12-volt power point. Also part of the design are covered slots to hold your electronics, each with a pass-through for wiring into the bin below.
Even the armrest slides fore and aft to expose yet another handy storage tray, or be positioned for comfort.
Rear passengers don’t get short-changed in the Venza, with stadium seating for a better view of the road, and exceptional knee room – even for tall passengers. Also in back is a centre fold-down armrest and separate ventilation.
Toyota has always scored high marks for their interiors, and the Venza is no exception. Materials are of high quality and well fitted, with tight panel gaps. Although my tester wore an abundance of black, the brightwork added interest, and you can opt for a lighter theme.
What struck me more was the Venza’s thoughtful inclusion of storage bins and cubbies, and its overall ergonomics. Years of consulting with North American focus groups has taught this company much about what to include and where to put it.
In between the base and V6 AWD models are an AWD four cylinder ($30,490) and a FWD six cylinder variant ($30,445).
I haven’t yet driven the inline four-cylinder, but expect that with drive to all four wheels, the DOHC 2.7-litre 16-valve unit (182 hp and 182 lb/ft of torque) would be in for a workout while moving the Venza’s nearly two-ton (1790 kg) curb weight.
The DOHC 24-valve 3.5-litre V6, on the other hand, is a stout performer.
Delivering 268 hp and 246 lb/ft of torque, and mated to a six-speed automatic, this powertrain launches the Venza with authority and is lively enough when it’s time to pass.
In terms of driving dynamics, I wouldn’t call the Venza particularly sporty, but its front/rear suspension (Mac Struts, coil springs, stabilizer bars) and lower centre of gravity makes for less lean than I’d expect in a vehicle this size, yet it’s forgiving on harsh pavement.
The styling, however, is athletic. The Venza begins with a bold chrome grille flanked by wraparound headlights, and all flowing into powerful front fenders. Short overhangs and large wheel openings frame the vehicle’s big 19- or 20-inch alloy wheels for a firmly-planted look.
From the side, the Venza has a sleek profile, with its rear-sloping roofline and rising beltline, all ending in the angled rear hatch – and topped by a roof-mounted spoiler.
Dual chrome exhaust outlets, available on V6 models, complete the look.
Although Venza has been on the market since 2009, the look has worn well.
And for 2013, Toyota has made a few tweaks to the grille and fog lamp bezel, along with turn signals, puddle lamps and a blind-spot mirror now integrated within the heated side mirror units.
Pricing has also come down $700 on the base model, while adding $565 in standard equipment.
Overall, the Venza combines the best traits of both wagon and sport utility, and has done so in a vehicle that is arguably one of the most attractive family haulers I’ve driven in a while.
Toyota Venza V6 AWD 2013 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Mid-size, five passenger crossover.
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, front-/all-wheel-drive.
ENGINE: 2.7-litre four-cylinder (182 hp, 182 lb/ft); 3.5-litre DOHC V6 (268 hp, 246 lb/ft).
FUEL ECONOMY: 2.7-litre FWD 10.0/6.9L/100km (city/hwy); 2.7-litre AWD 10.2/7.1L/100km (city/hwy); 3.5-litre FWD 11.1/7.7L/100km (city/hwy); 3.5-litre AWD 11.4/7.9L/100km (city/hwy).
CARGO: 870 litres behind second row seats, 1,990 litres folded
PRICES: base $28,690, four-cylinder AWD $30,490, V6 FWD $30,445, V6 AWD $32,245 (as tested with Premium Package $4,215) – $36,460